The Future Eve explores the relationship between technology and the body and features video, sculpture, drawing, installation and sound by 5 California-based artists
The Future Eve is the title of a science fiction novel from 1886 by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam. Credited with popularizing the term “android,” its protagonist is a fictionalized Thomas Alva Edison, hailed in a short foreword as the discoverer of “among others, the Telephone, the Phonograph, the Microphone, and those admirable electric light bulbs which have now spread across the earth’s surface.”
The action begins with the return of an old friend, Lord Celian Ewald, who has arrived in a sense already dead. Fated by family tradition to love only once, the hapless aristocrat has fallen for a woman, evidently the mirror image of the Venus de Milo, whose materialistic personality falls far short of the ideal suggested by her beauty. He has thus resolved to commit suicide. Calling him back to life, Edison reveals that he has constructed a working prototype of an android, named Hadaly, who can be customized to duplicate this woman, with her inner flaws supplanted by machinery optimized for the realization of an allegedly scientific ideal of love.
Edison ushers the skeptical Ewald into a secret underground laboratory, where he expounds in detail upon the technical and philosophical underpinnings of his invention. The former discourse, which highlights features such as the two golden phonograph records that constitute Hadaly’s lungs and provide her voice and vocabulary, is notable for its inventive, at times nearly prophetic, use of then-nascent technologies. The latter stands out for its appalling sexism. The two strands merge when Edison presents two cinema reels, more than a decade before film was ever projected in public, depicting a woman who seduced a now-deceased friend to ruin with and without an elaborate array of cosmetic enhancements. If female beauty can be thus and so ruinously simulated, Edison seems to argue, he will spare men the risks of temptation by taking the matter to its logical conclusion.
The exhibition engages this dual legacy of Villiers’ novel, at once ahead of its time and deeply regressive. On the one hand, The Future Eve’s idealistic, if ideologically tainted, portrayal of the integration of man and machine is contrasted to the present climate, in which authors like economist Robert Gordon have argued that we have entered an era of permanently reduced technological advancement compared to the hundred-year period beginning in 1870. On the other, the sexism latent in the android narrative, highlighted by the example of Villiers’ Edison, is examined in terms of what it can reveal about broader cultural narratives surrounding technology and its relationship to nature, in particular through the latter’s omnipresent synecdoche, the body.
Recreating both Edison’s inner sanctum and the body of the android splayed wide, the art exhibition The Future Eve is a program that attempts to rewrite Hadaly’s code and a Frankenstein-esque monster formed from the hybridization of literary criticism and contemporary art. The exhibition features work in a variety of media, and raises provocative questions about autonomy, mediation, and sentience.Jared Baxter was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and studied German literature at Reed College. His writing on art has appeared in Artslant, Flash Art, and Native Strategies, and he joined VOLUME as a curator in 2012. His recent projects include Haunted Formalism, an exhibition of new works by Nicole Phungrasamee Fein and Dean Smith at Del Vaz. He lives and works in Los Angeles.